In what seems to be a regular occurrence during rainy season, the Sarasota County Health Department issued a no-swim advisory for yet another area beach last week — this time, Blind Pass Beach, just north of the Charlotte-Sarasota county line on Manasota Key.

The reason for the advisory was a water test with an unacceptably high reading of enteroccocus bacteria. That’s the bacteria found in the intestines or bowels of an animal — or, in high concentrations, a septic tank.

Not only gross, but unhealthy.

About two weeks before, the Health Department sent out an advisory for North Jetty Beach in Nokomis. Same reason, enteroccocus.

Health Department officials determined the bacteria was from natural causes: wrack lines of algae created “reservoirs” of water and attracted shorebirds, which let loose in that area. Contributing to the danger-zone test also may have been runoff from heavy rains that essentially power-washed the landscape and swept “bacteria from birds, pet feces and wildlife into local waters.”

This is nothing new. It happens time to time during the rainy season. But it happens too often, in both Sarasota and Charlotte County. And our impression is the situation is not improving, as we’d hope.

It may be too much to expect that we can stop flocks of birds from doing what they do naturally near the shoreline, or wild animals onshore. Individuals can, and should, pick up after dogs, though. When you’re walking the dog always bring along a baggie or two.

Individuals and businesses also need to respect and follow county fertilizer blackout regulations during rainy season. Nitrogen fertilizer also contributes to water pollution and feeds red tide algae.

Local governments conduct tests and issue timely advisory online and through the media. That’s good. But they need to do whatever is possible to clean up outfalls, and they need to do more to limit pollution-laden runoff. One hopeful sign of commitment was the Venice City Council’s recent decision to apply for state grants for equipment to monitor runoff outfalls. We’d like to see more. We’d like to see better tests too.

Another hopeful sign came in a recent public presentation by Steve Suau, an environmental engineer working with the South Venice Civic Association on community projects aimed at controlling nutrient pollution. The South Venice group has demonstrated that lining drainage ditches with sawdust, charcoal and woodchips can effectively limit damaging runoff. It’s a natural approach that can help.

We do often boast about our beautiful beaches in Southwest Florida. For good reason. They are spectacular. One — Siesta Key Beach — has been ranked as the top beach in the United States. Others aren’t far behind; it comes down to a matter of personal preference.

But the continuing closures should be troubling to us all. Although the advisories often are lifted in day or two after, the repeated closures indicate problems that should be addressed as best as possible.

As reported in June in USA Today — with the headline, “There’s ‘poop in the water’ at America’s dirtiest beaches” — two of Florida’s five “dirtiest” were in Sarasota County. The story focused on a study by the group Environment America. In that report, the Venice Fishing Pier had what the group rated 15 “unsafe” days, primarily considering high bacteria; Bird Key Park in Sarasota had 17.

Not a good look. Not good period.

An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.


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